Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Michael Kay often has compared his dual role as YES' lead play-by-play man and 1050 ESPN's lead talk-show host to walking a tightrope.

On Wednesday, he did a somersault off it, without benefit of a net.

In a colorful radio rant, Kay ripped SNY for taking calls from viewers in the eighth inning of the Mets' lopsided loss Tuesday night in Denver, saying he was "flabbergasted'' and calling it "absolutely unconscionable'' and a gimmick YES never would use - "ever!''

"This is game seven,'' he said. "If it was game 145 and they are 30 games out and you want to juggle balls in the air and blow up balloons and make plastic animals out of them, I guess I understand. You're giving up in game seven by taking phone calls?''

Oh, my. If this had come from anyone else on 1050 or WFAN, it would have been run-of-the-mill sports talk venting. But Kay is no ordinary host, which was why SNY fired back.

"Calls to the booth is something we introduced in 2008,'' spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi said, "and our fans enjoy the unfiltered interaction, just as they enjoy the unfiltered and honest approach from our broadcast team.

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"For a colleague who works for a crosstown rival to publicly question our integrity without first trying to find the truth is disappointing.''

That last sentence referred to Kay and co-host Don La Greca speculating that the calls might be plants, based on the assumption SNY never would risk putting random callers on live TV.

(Fegyveresi said callers were put on a five-second delay.)

It also was based on their assertion that the Mets might have tried to send a message through callers.

"Is the Met organization trying to . . . get their point across without [announcers] saying it and saying, 'Well, look how angry the fans are?' '' Kay said, acknowledging it was a "conspiracy theory.''

Questioning SNY's motives is thorny ground for Kay, given the network's mostly solid track record for independence and the Yankees' occasional lapses into a more, um, hands-on approach with YES.

But Kay rejected that notion in an e-mail Thursday, writing, "I hope they're not intimating that the YES broadcast is filtered and dishonest, because that is a ridiculous statement.''

Did YES have a problem with Kay's radio comments?

"Michael wears two different hats,'' spokesman Eric Handler said. "In this case, he was expressing his opinion wearing the hat of the ESPN radio host.''

Kay wrote in another e-mail, "I was speaking as a member of the media, and I think they are selling their exceptional announcers short as well as giving up on their team in game seven.''

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As to those who would question his objectivity, he wrote, "If any one crosses wires that that is why I said what I said, then they have a built-in bias against me and / or YES.

"Whatever. I said what I said and I stand by it as a radio host, broadcaster and the play-by-play voice of the Yankees on YES. Yes, all three agree with me.''

On his show, Kay profusely praised that night's SNY announcers, Gary Cohen ("He could call a 100-0 baseball game and make it interesting") and Keith Hernandez, but he said if injected with truth serum, "They're probably embarrassed to take those phone calls.''

He also said this:

"It's an admission by the people at SportsNet New York that the team stinks and nobody is going to tune in if we just show baseball, so we have to turn this into a circus act and take phone calls like a radio show.''

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In fairness, SNY has taken calls during blowout victories as well as losses in the past. And surely there is room for a few diversions over 486 hours of regular-season baseball, isn't there?

(YES finally added in-game reports from Kimberly Jones this season after resisting for years.)

The Mets were trailing 11-3 when SNY opened it up for callers. Before doing so, Cohen cracked, "I think we should do it more. We could be talk show hosts in addition to doing the game.''

Said Hernandez: "There are too many talk shows now.''